At the David Coppedge trial that concluded yesterday, one of Coppedge’s managers at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Clark Burgess, claimed that he had not yet decided whether to demote Coppedge prior to the April 13, 2009, meeting where Coppedge received a letter of reprimand for sharing intelligent-design DVDs with co-workers. Burgess testified that he decided to demote Coppedge from the “team lead” position on the spot, during the meeting.
Why? Because Coppedge, when told he had engaged in “unwelcome” and “disruptive” behavior in talking about intelligent design, supposedly became “belligerent” and “confrontational.”
David Klinghoffer alluded to this earlier. However the point, further demonstrating what a put-up job JPL’s treatment of Coppedge really was, bears some additional explaining and elaborating. JPL has sought to create the impression, the illusion, that Coppedge received a fair hearing from supervisors, but it’s clear he did not.
As Burgess testified at the trial:
Q. And when did you make that decision to remove his lead responsibilities?
A. Towards the end of the meeting, I did.
Q. So actually in the meeting itself?
(April 2, 2012 PM transcript, 44:26-45:2)
But the transcript from the April 13, 2009, meeting strongly challenges Burgess’s claim. It reveals that prior to the April 13 meeting, Burgess had already informed Greg Chin that Coppedge would be demoted. As Burgess stated:
I wanted to know myself what I could do to lessen the strife in your area, so I’m going to remove you from the lead of the system admin team. I’m going to give the lead to someone else. And you will remain on the team, and there’s no need to be discussing this or the letter with anybody in public. This is all private information. I had a discussion with Greg on how to deal with that rearrangement and he and even HR suggested that when it comes to any announcement that you are taking on some other role other than that I should divorce myself from that so it’s not obvious to the people who are hearing this that it’s part of anything else. So I’ve asked Greg to bring this up at his next team meeting, and as of next Monday, someone else will be leading the team and he’s going to address your role as specifically focused on getting the servers that you’re trying to bring up as your focal point from now on and not running the team with minutes and task assignments and all that. That’s going to pass to someone else. And the idea there is that you won’t have that interface to these people out there on the project that are complaining that they’re uncomfortable with your actions.” (Transcript of April 13, 2009 meeting, pp. 34-35, emphasis added)
From the bold text above, it’s clear that prior to the April 13 meeting, Burgess had already instructed Greg Chin to announce at the next team meeting that Coppedge would no longer be the team lead. So plans to demote Coppedge had already been enacted prior to the meeting where Coppedge was informed he’d be demoted.
Also in the April 13 meeting, Burgess said that Coppedge’s demotion from the team-lead role was due to the interviews conducted by HR:
No, this is directly a result of all the interviews that HR conducted. To them, you see, it looks to them like you’ve got a customer base out there that’s very uncomfortable, and removing you from that to be focused on something else is going to lessen the strife in the workplace.” (Transcript of April 13, 2009 meeting, p. 35, emphasis added)
Again, Burgess said that his “removing” Coppedge was “directly a result of all the interviews that HR conducted.” There is NO mention of the removal being the result of Coppedge’s alleged behavior at the April 13 meeting.
A final piece of evidence that contradicts Burgess’s testimony is an April 7, 2012 e-mail from JPL HR “solutions” specialist Nancy Aguilera where she suggests that they “Remove Coppedge as the Lead SA.” She reported that same day:
I spoke with Chin today. No retaliation. David is still on the project, but will not be the lead SA. Line and Project Management are now on same page.
Thus, according to Aguilera, as early as April 7, the whole group of managers over Coppedge — including Burgess — had agreed that Coppedge would be removed from team lead SA. It seems the decision to demote Coppedge was made nearly a week prior to the April 13 meeting.
The evidence suggest Burgess had decided to demote Coppedge prior to the meeting, and Burgess’s testimony that he decided to demote Coppedge during the meeting itself is an invented claim. The question remains, why did Burgess invent this claim? What is his motive? We have a theory.
As we discussed earlier, JPL denied David Coppedge his internal due process rights, never giving him a chance to address the actual accusations against him during the course of the HR investigation. Now at the April 13 meeting with his supervisors, David Coppedge did get a chance to address and challenge the accusations against him. But by that time it was too late — it was at that meeting that they demoted him, though the decision to demote him had already been made. As a supposed opportunity for Coppedge to address the accusations against him, it was strictly meaningless. The decision had already been made.
JPL has now sought to make it sound like a meaningful opportunity by claiming that Clark Burgess hadn’t yet decided whether to demote David, thus implying David did have the opportunity to address the accusations against him before the decision to demote him was made. Clark Burgess’s false claims appear to be an attempt on JPL’s part to rewrite history and create the impression that they in fact gave David Coppedge some small semblance of due process — when, in truth, they did no such thing.
As for David Coppedge himself, during the April 13 meeting he expressed a clear willingness to own his own mistakes, if they were actual mistakes. He does not sound at all “belligerent” or “confrontational.” We have the transcript right here:
Coppedge: “Greg has, on occasion, accused me of being difficult to get along with certain individuals. And yet he has never offered specifics. It’s always been vague allegations, OK? And I have pleaded with him and begged with him, ‘Greg, if he can show me something that I have done that is wrong, I will crawl on my knees to that person and apologize to them. That is my commitment to you.’ He never does that. This is the latest outburst and he found a new lightning rod to use. What guarantee do I have that … that he doesn’t [have] some kind of personal vendetta that [he] is you know using tools to get back at me here?” (pp. 35-36)
Coppedge: “OK, I mean, you certainly have my commitment as far as being a gracious, personable person, OK? But we also have freedom of speech in this country, and we have freedom of speech in the workplace, and to the extent that my rights of freedom of speech and religious expression are protected, I will do and I think I have been doing all I can to maintain a professional, cordial relationship with all of my co-workers. That has been my commitment; it remains so now. I cannot control what other people think and what they say when I have documents that show otherwise. Please read my materials.” (pp. 36-37)
We weren’t in the room, but it sure does sound like David Coppedge was simply standing up for his rights. He was also very willing to admit it if he had done something wrong, although he did not believe the evidence showed he had done anything wrong. (As we showed here, the warning letter he had just been given was based upon an incompetent investigation and contained outright false claims and accusations about Coppedge’s conduct.) Despite all this, Coppedge’s, words do not sound belligerent or confrontational.
But maybe for some folks at JPL, asserting your rights to freedom of speech, if it’s to talk about intelligent design, is inherently considered “belligerent” and “confrontational.”